Species are hypotheses: avoid connectivity assessments based on pillars of sand

Connectivity among populations determines the dynamics and evolution of populations, and its assessment is essential in ecology in general and in conservation biology in particular. The robust basis of any ecological study is the accurate delimitation of evolutionary units, such as populations, metapopulations and species. Yet a disconnect still persists between the work of taxonomists describing species as working hypotheses and the use of species delimitation by molecular ecologists interested in describing patterns of gene flow. This problem is particularly acute in the marine environment where the inventory of biodiversity is relatively delayed, while for the past two decades, molecular studies have shown a high prevalence of cryptic species. In this study, we illustrate, based on marine case studies, how the failure to recognize boundaries of evolutionary-relevant unit leads to heavily biased estimates of connectivity. We review the conceptual framework within which species delimitation can be formalized as falsifiable hypotheses and show how connectivity studies can feed integrative taxonomic work and vice versa. Finally, we suggest strategies for spatial, temporal and phylogenetic sampling to reduce the probability of inadequately delimiting evolutionary units when engaging in connectivity studies.


connectivity, marine organisms, molecular systematics, taxonomy

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Pante Eric, Puillandre Nicolas, Viricel Amélia, Arnaud-Haond Sophie, Aurelle Didier, Castelin Magalie, Chenuil Anne, Destombe Christophe, Forcioli Didier, Valero Myriam, Viard Frederique, Samadi Sarah (2015). Species are hypotheses: avoid connectivity assessments based on pillars of sand. Molecular Ecology. 24 (3). 525-544. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.13048, https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00248/35952/

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